A father-daughter duo of public policy researchers from the University of Georgia have published a follow-up to their 2016 research that found in states with a medical marijuana program, prescriptions for medications like painkillers, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications dropped sharply.
That means that among adults 65 and older who are enrolled in Medicare, many are choosing to self-medicate with cannabis rather than taking medications prescribed by a doctor. It’s a significant shift in approaches to healthcare, and is especially relevant given the opioid epidemic in the U.S. Numerous studies have found that opiate abuse and overdose rates fell in states with medical marijuana laws.
The Bradfords’ new study applies the same analysis as the Medicare study, but this time they looked at Medicaid prescriptions. Medicaid covers low-income people of all ages. The results were similar to the Medicare research: in states with a medical marijuana program, prescriptions for certain drugs fell significantly.
Anti-nausea prescriptions fell by 17 percent, anti-depressants fell 13 percent, and anti-seizure and psychosis drugs fell 12 percent. Prescriptions for painkillers, including opiates, fell by 11 percent.
“Patients and physicians in the community are reacting to the availability of medical marijuana as if it were medicine,” the Bradfords concluded.
They also concluded that a nationwide medical marijuana program would save taxpayers about $1.1 billion on Medicaid prescriptions annually. However, while Medicaid and Medicare see cost savings, medical marijuana must be purchased outside of the insurance system, essentially shifting the burden of cost to low-income and senior patients.
Last summer the DEA affirmed marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 drug–categorizing cannabis as an addictive drug with no medical benefits. The Bradfords warned that, “This decision was made despite the substantial and growing evidence that the requirements for Schedule I status involving ‘no currently accepted medical uses’ are no longer met by marijuana.”
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